Influencer Marketing: Keeping within the Rules & Regulations

London, 18th September 2017

 Amy Sandiford-Watts, Digital Account Manager and a member of our global Influencer Squad attended the PRWeek Breakfast Briefing on “Getting Influencer Marketing right… within the Rules”, featuring guidance from the Advertising Standards Authority and Competition & Marketing Authority. She gives us the low down on sponsored content, brand and influencer collaboration and keeping content trustworthy.

Opening PRWeek’s breakfast briefing on Influencer marketing, PRWeek Editor-in-Chief Danny Rogers observed that influencer marketing has ushered in the third age of the internet (following the eras of email and social media). Everyone at M&C Saatchi PR would wholeheartedly agree with this statement: as a member of ours Influencer Squad, it’s a rare a week goes by where I don’t work with influencers in some shape or form. Across disciplines and our global markets, we’re receiving more and more influencer briefs from clients.

“Influencers’ power derives from the fact they can circumvent editorial media with unfettered access to their adoring fans.”

Rogers went on to note that influencers’ power derives from the fact they can circumvent editorial media with unfettered access to their adoring fans. He then raised the three questions that everyone who’s worked on an influencer campaign has asked: How do we verify what makes an influencer? How do we tell if an influencer is authentic? And how should we regulate influencer work?

The final point is one of the questions every one of our clients ask: how should they should be disclosing influencer brand partnerships?

It’s a grey area with constantly evolving regulations, so the talk from the CEO of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and a project director from Competition & Marketing Authority (CMA) was particularly enlightening.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The ASA and CMA follow the same rules on influencer marketing. Whilst the CMA take a step back and look at systemic regulatory issues for the sector as a whole, it’s the ASA who carry out the day-to-day work looking at individual marketing campaigns.
  • The ASA consider influencer content advertising if it fits a two part test:
    • Payment or payment in kind (for example, gifting or a reciprocal arrangement) is received by the influencer
    • The brand has control of the message
  • The ad disclosure must be clearly visible; for example, not hidden in truncated text on an Instagram post. You should not label an advertisement with #sp or #spon as people don’t understand that label.
  • As well as being clearly disclosed, influencer advertisements must follow all ASA regulations. Today, the ASA published a ruling against Flat Tummy Tea who’d clearly disclosed an ad –

but it contained misleading claims…

  • Iffy and poorly labelled content reflects badly on both the influencer and the brand. The ASA have seen a rise in influencers reporting other influencers who are not following regulations.

Overall, the ASA and CMC recognised there’s a fine line between providing freebies in the hope that someone says something nice and outright paying them to say what you want. Guy Parker, CEO of the ASA, noted that journalists have been receiving freebies for years but this doesn’t mean their content is advertising.

#spon influencer marketing example

For the grey area, the ASA conceded that using #spon could be an alternative if used to signal a partnership where the brand does not have control of the message. However, the long and the short of it is that there are no concrete regulations and each case that gets flagged to the ASA or CMA will be assessed on an individual basis.

“Many influencers have told us that the number one way to irritate their fans is by trying to pass off an unmarked brand collaboration…”

In conclusion, our perspective is that brands and PRs should endeavour to follow regulations. As well as the ASA and CMC made it clear that they’re regularly taking enforcement action, thanks to our relationships with influencers we know that their fanbases respond better when partnerships are clearly flagged: many influencers have told us that the number one way to irritate their fans is by trying to pass off an unmarked brand collaboration. Their fans are savvy and know they receive gifts, and will actually find the endorsement more authentic if the partnership is disclosed up front.

So, whilst these regulations are unclear, erring on the side of caution is always best: poorly labelled content could backfire in the form of regulatory action or a fan backlash, ultimately damaging the brand and influencer. After all, trust from their adoring fans is what makes influencer content so powerful – so influencers and brands alike must ensure that influencers remain trustworthy.

To find out more about our approach and work with influencers, please contact